Gas to get to Shawinigan from Montreal: $10
Small serving of poutine to settle the nerves: $3
Priceless souvenir from the office of the Prime Minister: Well, priceless
“Dom, let’s go and visit the Prime Minister’s office.”
“Good point. Let’s go.”
That’s how it started. August 5, 2003. The dog days of summer were in full effect. We were bored. And hungry. All the best stories stem from indifference and an empty stomach.
We pulled up the office of the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien in Downtown Shawinigan, Quebec. The elevator was broken, so we climbed the stairs to the second storey. Tucked away in a little corner was the office of Jean Chrétien. It was easily the crappiest office I’ve ever seen. It made Money Mart look like a gleaming crystal palace. I loved it. It was perfect. How many world leaders can say they have their home office in a decaying rural strip mall next to a poutine shack? I can’t say I’m the most patriotic flag-waving Canadian of all time, but some things just tug at your heartstrings with national pride.
We entered the office and were greeted with a gleeful “bonjour” by the receptionist. I told her in patchwork French how I’d come all the way across Canada from Vancouver to see the office of the Prime Minister—not his flashy showroom office in Ottawa, but the real deal--the office he’d held for more than four decades. I asked if there was possibly a photo of Mr. Chrétien, perhaps an autographed photo of the Right Honorable maybe lying around the office somewhere for a big fan. She was extremely pleased to have such a proud supporter on the premises and told us to wait a minute, she had the perfect souvenir for us, les vrais supporteurs de Monsieur Chrétien.
She went to the back to find the perfect item that would satisfy our hunger for a nationalistic propaganda party-platform promoting souvenir. I looked over at Dom, “So this is the Prime Minster’s Office. Huh, what do you think?”
“I think it’s weird. Let’s go get some poutine.”
“Yeah, we will, but we’ve gotta get a souvenir first. The receptionist is going to totally hook us up.”
“She’s probably going to find some crappy picture of Jean Chrétien and put it in an envelope. I bet it won’t even be autographed.”
“What? You think?”
“Oh yeah, for sure. She just wants us to get out of here.”
“Dom, I came the entire way across the country to get here, remember? The least we’ll get is an autographed picture. The distance demands it.”
“No way. I guarantee you’ll get shafted. This office demands it.”
“Okay, I bet you a poutine that the picture will be autographed.”
“Oh, you’re on. It’s a deal” As she extended her right hand and added, “That’s about the best thing you’ll find in this building, hot gravy and curd cheese atop a mountain of fries.” I shook her hand and considered the statement. “That may be true, but there’s no way I’m leaving here without a good souvenir. You know what we need? We need an insurance souvenir--something real good that we can ‘borrow’ if we get the shaft and you win the bet.” I winked at her and searched the room with a pair of shifty eyes for the perfect item.
The walls were covered in large framed pictures of the Prime Minister with foreign dignitaries. Mr. Chrétien had met a considerable number of impressive people over the years. The most impressive picture was of Chrétien with Jacques Chirac. A large wood frame encased the timeless picture of Chirac’s right hand met with the right hand of Chrétien. The two elder statesmen had surely met many times over the years, this photo served as a testament to the strength of their personal relationship. Chirac’s grin was massive. He seemed to wink at us.
“Dom, is Chirac winking at us?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a funny face he’s got, that’s for sure.”
I gazed into the penetrating eyes of Chirac. His Gallic features had an uncanny intensity, even for a world leader. My gaze lowered from the framed photo to the desk below. Upon the desk sat a Canadian flag, brand new.
“That’s it!” I said in hushed excitement.
“I know what we need to do.”
“What’s that?” She asked in quiet suspense.
“I’m going to take this flag.”
“What? No, you’ll get caught.”
“Dom, I’ve got to, the situation demands it.”
“Kyle, you are not going to steal a flag from the office of the Prime Minister.”
“Just watch me.”
And she did.
The receptionist emerged from the back room with a triumphant smile on her face. “I’ve found you a very nice photo of Monsieur Chrétien. C’est une tres belle photo de lui.” I took the envelope, shook her hand, and said thanks. We went outside and opened the envelope. Sure enough, it was an 8 by 10 photo of Chrétien with his trademark grin. Belle, but sans autograph. Dom looked up at me, “Ha! I told you.”
“Okay, you win the bet, but I’m the one with a Canadian flag from the Prime Minister’s office.”
I paid for the poutine and we made our way back to the car. Dom was happy to fill her stomach, I was happy to make up for the lack of autographed photo.
Later that night, back at our place, Dom and I flicked on the news. Our eyes were met with the sight of Jacques Chirac and Jean Chrétien standing side by side. The President of France stood abreast the Prime Minister of Canada atop the observation tower at La Cité de l'énergie. The observation tower towers over the town of Shawinigan. It stands as a monument to Quebec’s electricity-generating prowess. As the news cameras flashed, we watched Chirac extend his right hand to that of Mr. Chrétien. The flashes increased to strobe-like intensity. Chirac glanced towards the TV cameras and a flash caught his eye, causing him to wink. I looked at the flag, then over at Dom, “Hey Dom?”
“Is that Chrétien shaking hands with Chirac at the top of La Cité de l'énergie?”
I reached my right hand out, grabbed the flag and raised it up to Dom’s nose. A massive grin broke out across my face, “Dom, did we just steal a Canadian flag right from under the nose of the Prime Minster of Canada?”
Well you know what she said.
Copyright © 2005 Kyle MacDonald